Some might forget, but for London Knights’ star forward Connor McMichael the trade to his current team from the Hamilton Bulldogs is one he isn’t soon to forget. After all, the Knights moved their captain at the time – Robert Thomas – to the Bulldogs in exchange for the then 16-year-old McMichael along with a second-round pick in 2021 and a handful of conditional picks.
At the time, the Knights surely had some idea of what they were getting in the young forward McMichael, while outsiders looked in upon the organization with curiosity following the departure of their beloved captain, Thomas.
However, it didn’t take long for that to change and while the two were traded for each other, the comparisons in their game and their paths to the NHL Draft is fascinatingly similar.
Life With the London Knights
While McMichael was traded to the Knights in what was his first NHL season, Thomas began his OHL career with the Knights after the team drafted him 26th overall in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. From there, however, let the similarities sink in.
It’s normal in the OHL for younger players to not see a lot of ice-time in their rookie season and because of that we often see their point totals spike in their second year. For Thomas and McMichael, this was the case.
Split between Hamilton and London in his first season, McMichael finished with eight goals and 16 points in 60 regular season games and was shutout in a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs, while Thomas was much different.
The now St. Louis Blues forward notched just three goals and and 15 points in his rookie season with the Knights, while suiting up for just 40 regular season games. He tallied five more points in 15 playoff games, but had similar rookie stats to McMichael.
Thomas followed that up with 66 points in 66 games in his second year and 75 points in 49 games in his final OHL season before making the jump to the NHL in 2018-19. With that, McMichael also exploded on the offensive side of the puck in his second season with 72 points in 67 games helping the Knights to a playoff berth.
Both dynamic players on the offensive side of the puck and responsible when it comes to playing the defensive zone, McMichael’s deceptive shot and stick handling skills should remind London fans of Thomas’ game. While the discussion at the NHL Combine in Buffalo didn’t exactly linger on their similarities, it’s clear – at least to McMichael – that the London Knights are an organization that puts its players in a position to succeed.
“They have a lot of history of putting guys in the NHL,” said McMichael when asked about playing in London. “For me, little to none when it comes to better places to play in the CHL. Nothing but good things to say about the Hunters and all of our coaches there, and management. It’s just a really good organization.”
But, wait. The similarities don’t end with their style of play and the organization they played for.
A Similar Life in London
McMichael noted that with all of the draft preparation going on he’s still had time to pay attention to the Stanley Cup Finals – paying attention to some players in particular.
“I kind of got traded for Robert Thomas last year. I actually live in his old billet house, so yeah I’m kind of following in his footsteps,” said McMichael. “He played in the league that I’m in last year, so it just makes you realize how close you are to your dream and what can happen in the future.”
While McMichael will surely have one more year back with the Knights next season, his raw talent isn’t far off from that of Thomas who is playing in the Stanley Cup Final with the Blues as part of his rookie season in the NHL.
“I want to get stronger, I think,” said McMichael on what he’s looking to improve on in the upcoming season. “I’m a really good skater, but I want to work on my first few strides, I think. Those are the two things I’m working on the most.”
Regardless of whether you believe in destiny or not, the similarities between Thomas and McMichael are indisputable. Given the organization he plays for and the footsteps he seems to be following as his path approaches June’s NHL Draft, it’s hard to argue with the fact that McMichael might be just two years removed from a potential NHL debut. As always though, time will tell.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.